Last Modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 8:18 PM
DERIDDER — For the first time, DeRidder is practicing over Thanksgiving break. It was another week, another shutout for DeRidder in the regional playoffs last Friday when the eighth-seeded Dragons blanked ninth-seeded Breaux Bridge 24-0.
The win propelled DeRidder to the quarterfinals for the first time ever, setting up a showdown at top-seeded Neville.
It’s all been another step in the impressive turnaround DeRidder has been through since a 3-7 season in 2011. Last season, the Dragons went 7-5 and lost to Holy Cross in the regional round of the playoffs.
“That hurt a lot,” senior offensive lineman Chuck Harlow said of the loss. “This year we came out and I had that in my mind this year, that I want to practice Thanksgiving week, if anything else. So it’s a good feeling to be here even though it’s about 13 degrees outside.”
The Dragons pride themselves on a no-frills approach to both sides of the ball. Offensively, DeRidder uses a big offensive line to execute a simple running game. After getting shutout in the season opener, a 7-0 loss to Westlake that remains the Dragons’ only blemish on their record, the DeRidder offense has become more effective as the season progressed.
“The coaches have done a good job on those little things like the blocking, the execution,” DeRidder head coach Eric Parmley said. “The offense, especially our style of offense, is slower-paced to get on track to do things. We try to feed off each other by being a strong, physical defense and we try to turn that around and be physical on offense and pound the rock. I think it was a learning curve. You learn a lot more after a defeat sometimes than you do in a win.”
The backbone of the team is the defense, led by the black shirts. Defensive players who earn the right to start wear a black jersey in practice.
Senior linebacker Delano Stenson said he “almost passed out” when he learned he’d been rewarded with a black jersey.
“Basically, (Parmley) takes the best players on the team and puts them on defense first,” Stenson said. “To be a black shirt, it’s wonderful. It’s tradition and pride. You work as hard as you can at practice to get it.”
That defense is giving up 9.75 points per game and hasn’t given up a point in the playoffs. In eight of their 12 games, the Dragons have given up seven points or less.
“That’s the emphasis we put on our black shirt defense,” Parmley said. “Our offense runs the football, pounds the rock, they get excited from that and we feed off of each other. If you’ve got a good defense, you’re going to be in the ball game come the fourth quarter, who knows what happens.”
Coming from a district in which no other school had a winning record, DeRidder had plenty of doubters heading into its game against Breaux Bridge, but that’s something the Dragons are used to.
“Since my sophomore year starting, we’ve been counted as underdogs against almost everybody we’ve played,” Harlow said. “I don’t know what it is about DeRidder, but not many people are fond of DeRidder. I like being the underdog, because it gives me more motivation. I’m already motivated to play, but when I’m told that we’re going to lose and lose that big, it gives me so much more motivation to go play my heart out. With that shutout we had, that was great.”
Now DeRidder is matched up with an 11-0 Neville team that averages just more than 38 points per game. But Stenson said he knows the defense can play with anybody and Harlow has always known this season could be special.
“I’ve played with pretty much all the seniors in this class since I was about five,” Harlow said. “We’ve been saying it for a long time that this is the year we’re going to win. We’ve been saying that since I was probably 12.”
Parmley and his team don’t appear to be feeling the pressure of the impending game. He said quarterfinals week is different than any other because there’s no school, something he thinks can play a factor come game time.
This week, the Dragons will rely on that blue collar effort more than ever.
“You get to this point and you can be satisfied and become complacent or you can go to work and try to get it done,” Parmley said.